Me and Mr. Inaba outside of Inaba Shuzo that he runs with Toji Nobuko Inaba (his wife).
After visiting Toshimaya Shuzo, the second brewery I went to during my trip to Japan was Inaba Shuzo. It is accessible by the Tsukuba Express from Tokyo. One of the main reasons I wanted to visit was because I will be featuring their sakes next March for Female Frontrunner's month, since Toji (Brewmaster) Nobuko Inaba is a woman. I was delighted that my friend Tori-chan took the day off and came with me on this day trip. Inaba Shuzo is located about two hours north of Tokyo by train in Ibaraki Prefecture. Once we got to Tsukuba Station, we took a 30 minute taxi ride to the brewery, located at the foot of Mt. Tsukuba.
The view right outside of the brewery
The surroundings were lush and green, and we went on a particularly hot and humid day. The taxi driver, who was very old and charming, pitied us because "everyone here gets free vegetables from their neighbors." He expressed that it must be hard living in Tokyo because you have to spend money on vegetables.
Me and Tori-chan (who pay for vegetables) in the taxi
The taxi driver told us he'd been to the brewery once, 30 years ago, and even though the navigation screen in his taxi was telling him to go one way, he insisted it was in the other direction. Of course it was not! And he took us halfway up Mt. Tsukuba, before he pulled over to ask an old woman where the brewery was. She said that it was at the foot of the mountain, so back down the mountain we went.
Inaba Shuzo Once we arrived, we were greeted by Mr. Inaba, the CEO. His wife, Nobuko Inaba, is the daughter of the brewery. She is the toji (brewmaster). Unfortunately she was not there, but Mr. Inaba was a great host and told me all about the sakes.
It was quiet in the production area since they were just getting ready to prepare for the busy brewing season ahead.
Mr. Inaba in the tasting room
For sake brewery families without male heirs, it is common for the son-in-law to take the family name to carry on the brewery. This is the case for Mr. Inaba – he married into the family and took the Inaba name.
The tasting area used to be the koji room, so you have to crawl through the low, small opening to enter When he and his wife took over the brewery in the early 2000s, they brewed together, just the two of them.
Now, there are four other kurabito (sake makers). Everyone in town knows Inaba Shuzo. They have been making Minanogawa (Man-Woman River) sake for many generations. Minanogawa River runs off of Mt. Tsukuba. I brought back the hiyaoroshi (fall release) version of Minanogawa Junmai Ginjo to share at our bar. It has notes of muscat grapes and lime soda.
Stella is a newer sake that the current husband and wife team created. Because they spent many night hours making the sake, they named it Stella (celestial star in Latin). The label is adorned with stars. It is also a play on words as Mr. Inaba's former surname was hoshi (star). Stella is made using the shizuku process, meaning that that the clear sake drains out of the bag with the gentle pull of gravity, as opposed to being pressed in a machine. This results in a gentle and clean texture with vibrant flavors of mango and peach.
Both the Minanogawa Junmai Ginjo and the Stella Junmai Daiginjo will be featured for Sake Gumi members next year during Female Frontrunners month. These have beens special ordered with the brewery – so it'll be a limited offering for members only. I was especially excited to try the Tsukuba 100. This is a sake that Mr. Inaba described with passion. It is a newer sake that is made with all local rice, water and yeast from Mt. Tsukuba. This sake is slightly golden in color and has earthy notes of cantaloupe skin, rice bran, dashi. I'm excited to get it onto our shelves in Oakland.
The sake shop at the front of the brewery features a rustic display
This is a list of recent releases (most are sold out!)
Tori-chan at the register
Taru (cedar casks) for celebrations
Although I love being in Tokyo, this was a much needed day trip to its outskirts. I enjoyed sipping on sake while taking in the fresh air and green landscape.
A special thank you to the Inabas who welcomed us to their brewery! We will be back for the onsen on Mt. Tsukuba.